Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

How my eschatology influences my life

I am in White River at the moment, (or just outside, actually, not far from the Kruger National Park) at the Africa School of Mission (ASM). They are training mostly young people eager to get involved in mission in some part of the world and the present batch of students come from countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, England and Croatia. I’ve been asked to take the week’s lectures, speaking on eschatology and the book of Revelation.

I can still remember distinctly where and when I had one of the most mind-shattering moments in my life. I was in Ovamboland, in the desert of then South-West-Africa (now Namibia) in a tent, trying to survive the hottest days and the coldest nights I’ve ever experienced, doing compulsory army service in the South African war against Angola. I took some books with me for the four months that I was there that I hoped to read. I was busy with the thesis of one of my favourite South African theologians, Adrio König and was absolutely intrigued by the way in which he discussed eschatology. And then one sentence caught my imagination, something (and I have to quote from my memory) like: “The end times only have meaning as long as we are involved with mission.” That was the moment that I decided to start working on a PhD with the theme of mission and eschatology. (If you’re interested in the topic, you can try and get a copy of the book: The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology: Toward a Christ-Centered Approach )

Later, as I started working on my PhD, David Bosch (I had the privilege to work closely with him, although not under him) referred me to an article he had written in which he said the following: “I wonder whether the real difference between “ecumenicals” and “evangelicals” (and, may I add, between different brands of “evangelicals”), does not lie in the area of eschatology… Until we clarify our convictions on eschatology, we will continue to talk at cross purposes.” Once again I had one of those “a-ha” moments, knowing that my thoughts on this topic was changed forever. (If you have access to an academic library, you can search for this article: Bosch, D J. 1982. How my mind has changed: Mission and the alternative community. Journal of Theology for Southern Africa. 41 (December) pp 6–10)

As I’m getting older (and hopefully more mature in my theological thinking), I still realise the truth of these words. As we are busy with the discussions in the lecture hall at ASM, I can absolutely see how these two topics are linked to each other. I started my lectures by making the remark that many people refuse to read the book of Revelation, because it makes them afraid. Immediately a number of students in the classroom confirmed this. What I’m hoping for is to give them a more balanced viewpoint on eschatology so that, by the end of the week, they will be able to read Revelation, not with fear, but with excitement, in the same way as the first Christians to whom this book was addressed, probably read it.

Yesterday I did a short introduction on eschatology in general and then started with Revelation 1 this morning. When we read Rev 1:7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen”, I said that, for the early church, the return of Jesus was the ultimate hope they had. They were living in wicked times. Their friends and church leaders were being persecuted and often fed to the lions. They had little hope that a change in government would make things better. And therefore they kept their eyes focussed on the return of Jesus. Yet, these early Christians simultaneously kept their eyes focussed on the world in which they lived, becoming involved in social issues, feeding the poor and caring for the sick, better than the government could do.

And this, it seems to me, is the key of a Biblical eschatology – keeping the balance between a real expectation of the second coming of Christ and being involved in the world in which God has placed us to live. As I spend a week in the lives of these young wannabe-missionaries, I hope that they will be able to keep this balance, wherever they may end up in the years to come.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009 Posted by | Africa, David Bosch, Eschatology, Hope, Mission, Social issues, Theology | Leave a comment

Missio Dei – The role of the church

I had recently been listening to God’s Story: As Told By John. This consists mostly of a reading of the Bible text from the English Standard Version, with a number of sketches included through which certain Scripture passages are explained. These sketches are presented in a narrative fashion, following a pattern of: God’s Story, My Story and Their Story. What the author of the sketches are trying to say is that God is already active in people’s lives and what we need to do is to find the overlap between God’s story, my story and their story in order to understand God’s working in people’s lives.
This got me thinking about the concept of Missio Dei (God’s mission) and how this term had been interpreted through time. David Bosch, in his Transforming Mission (p 390-393), gives an excellent summary of where this term came from and how it underwent changes in meaning. This term originated at the Willingen Conference of the International Missionary Council held in 1952, where it was said that mission is derived from the very nature of God. As the Father sent the Son into the world and the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world, so the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit sends the church into the world. Mission was seen as the church’s participation in the sending of God. Because mission is God’s priority, it is not the church’s initiative. The church is working with the sending God to bring God’s love to the world.
Gradually the understanding of Missio Dei underwent some changes. God’s Mission was seen to incorporate all things, including creation, care and redemption. It also embraces both the world and the church and is present in ordinary human history. In its missionary activity the church encounters a humanity and a world in which God’s salvation is already present through the Spirit. This wider understanding of the Missio Dei caused great unhappiness amongst certain theologians. In a study of the World Council of Churches it was stated that “The church serves the missio Dei in the world … (when) it points to God at work in world history and name him there.” In a certain sense, through this interpretation, the church had become unnecessary for the Missio Dei. Since Easter, according to this viewpoint, the world had been reconciled to God and it is therefore unnecessary for the world to become anything else than what it already is.
Back to the book I’d been listening to: In one of the sketches it is also implicated that we cannot really do anything when moving into a community. God is already active there and all that we have to do is to help people to see God (in other words, to find the place where God’s story, my story and their story overlap.
While this sounds wonderful and almost super-spiritual, I’m not exactly comfortable with the implications of such a viewpoint. Nine years ago I attended an ecumenical church conference in Indonesia where the same type of thing was said. And the implication of what was said at that time is that we, as Christians, do not have the right to discuss our faith with people of other religions with the intention of convincing them to come to faith in Jesus. Whether they are Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or anything else, God is already working in their lives and therefore we cannot tell them that they should accept Christ. And this, I think, is pushing the concept of Missio Dei to an extreme which it was never intended to be at.
One of the most often quoted passages in this regard is Acts 17:22-31, where Paul visited the people in Athens. It is said that Paul latched onto their existing religion and that we need to do the same when visiting people from other cultures. The fact is that Paul, after referring to their existing religion, clearly stated what he believed in, mentioning the necessity of repentance and even ending off by referring to the day of judgement. Undoubtedly there is truth in saying that missionaries are not bringing God to a country or a community for the first time when they start working there. God is already there. God has always been there. But that does not imply that God is known or served in the way He wants, just because He is present.
Missio Dei, as I understand it, is that God is reaching out to the world, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Although God could have used other methods to proclaim the message of salvation to the world, He chose to use the church. God needs the church as instrument of mission, not because He is incapable of reaching the people in other ways, but because He chose to use the church. And for this reason, the church is not unnecessary in mission. The church is a vital part of God’s plan to reach the world. And where the church refuses to take up this task, God’s work is being hindered.
And this is quite a frightening thought!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009 Posted by | Church, David Bosch, Mission, Theology | 3 Comments

Is Personal Salvation necessary?

Thomas Smith has a blog called Soulgardeners and has some very interesting topics which he writes about, such as Steps towards solidarity with the poor and Connecting the rich with the poor.
Thomas started a discussion under the title: Asking new questions and many people responded to this. Basically he asks whether, when trying to discover where a person is in his or her relationship with Jesus, instead of asking “have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour?” we shouldn’t rather ask something like have you accepted Jesus as the world’s communal Lord and Saviour?” or “how is your communal relationship with God growing?”
From the comments left on this post and which I advise you to read, it is clear that a distinction is made between personal salvation and something more in line with communal salvation. Some people feel strongly for personal salvation while one especially focusses on our involvement with the community.
David Bosch loved to speak of “Creative Tension” and I wonder whether we couldn’t speak of some creative tension between these two concepts. Part of the distinction between the Old Testament community of faith and the New Testament church, is that those who became part of the NT Church all had come to a point of accepting the salvation through Christ as something personal. This is the story of the book of Acts. Small (and sometimes larger) numbers of people listen to the message of the apostles, believe what they say and thereby come to personal salvation. In the Old Testament people were mostly automatically considered to be part of the faith community, merely by being born as Israelites. (Prophets like Jeremiah, Micah and Amos spoke against this viewpoint, of course.)
Even when asking a question such as: “have you accepted Jesus as the world’s communal Lord and Saviour?” or “how is your communal relationship with God growing?”, we are still concentrating on the individual’s personal viewpoint of God and therefore that person’s personal relationship with God. And that, as far as I can see, is absolutely Biblical. We are not saved because our names appear on a register indicating membership of a faith community. I am saved because something extremely personal happened between God and myself through the atonement of Jesus Christ. How we formulate the question is not as important as to help a person to understand that something personal has to happen between him or her and God.
In Evangelism Explosion, with which I’m fairly involved, two questions are asked:

  • Are you sure that, if you should die today, that you will definitely go to heaven?
  • If you should die today and God should ask you for what reason you should be allowed into heaven, what would you answer Him?

This method has been criticised greatly by modern theologians and I, for one, do not consider the questions as “untouchable”. But once again, as in all the questions above, this is just an attempt to evaluate a person’s personal relationship with God. In a post-modern, Western community, I would probably, when speaking to someone about God, rather use phrases such as: Would you mind sharing with me your personal viewpoint about God? How do you understand the work of Jesus Christ? Has this in any way led to a change in your personal life? etc. (And this, of course, would be part of a much longer conversation which could take place over the course of days, weeks or months.)
The crux of the matter is that, once a person has entered into a personal relationship with Christ, that things need to start to change. That person needs to know that, although I have a personal relationship with God, I cannot keep it personal. I am part of a greater community of believers. And this group of believers exist not for their own well-being only, but exist primarily in order for God’s reign to extend into every part of the world. My personal salvation thereby has a ripple effect on community.
There is no conflict between my personal relationship with Chris and my involvement within the faith community as well as the community at large. At most, there exist a creative tension as I deliberate about my involvement as believer within the community.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 Posted by | Alternative Society, Church, David Bosch, Evangelism, Evangelism Explosion, Mission, Theology | 7 Comments

The voice of a prophet

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Durban, where I’m attending the 4th South African AIDS Conference. Today has been the opening day and we’ve been promised 95 sessions over the next few days that we will be able to choose from to attend.
Today we had the chance to listen to Dr John Hargrove who made a case for much greater availability of ARVs and sooner than at present, where ARVs are only prescribed when a person’s CD4 count is below 200. He also argued that HIV testing should be compulsory.
The next speaker was Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This is the first time that I had had the privilege to hear him speak in person, but it is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. (I was able to get his signature, through a contact, in a book about the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of which he was the chairperson and which was established after Apartheid came to a fall in South Africa.)
I remember that, somewhere in the eighties, I had a conversation with a professor in missiology who was a member of the, then forbidden, African National Congress (ANC). This professor was obviously extremely critical of the National Party which was still ruling South Africa at that time. At one point I asked him whether he would be equally critical of the ANC when they get to take over the government in South Africa. He didn’t really answer me and sadly, I’ve never heard him speak out against the wrongs which the ANC is doing in South Africa.
During the Apartheid years Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke out strongly against the National Party, against Apartheid and against all the unrighteousness of the government. What made many people respect him, was that he, with the same voice with which he had criticised the National Party, continued to criticise the ANC government if he felt that they were wrong. And in my understanding, this makes him a true modern day prophet.
I experienced the same feeling today. A week or so ago the South African government refused to issue the Dalai Lama with a visa to visit South Africa with a visa to attend a peace conference. Their excuse is that it would take the focus away from the 2010 world football series which will be hosted in South Africa. (OK, it doesn’t make sense to me either, but that’s what they say!) And today I heard Archbishop Tutu speak to South Africa’s vice-president, who was also present, in which he told her that the government was wrong. Many people will be willing to criticise their country’s leaders. But how many people have the integrity that they can stand up, in front of an audience and reprimand the leaders in their faces? I was deeply touched by this.
Professor David Bosch had been a true modern day prophet. I consider Desmond Tutu to be one as well. But, as with all prophets, the people who need to listen may very well close their ears until it’s too late.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, David Bosch, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Meetings, Mission, Social issues | 1 Comment

Reaching the unreached: Mission vs Evangelism

Wendi dropped a comment on a recent post of mine, saying: “I’m taking a missions class called Perspectives. There was much discussion about how many (few) missionary efforts go toward clearly unreached people, and how much of our mission efforts and resources go to actually “reached” people, like the Swazi people.”
If our mission efforts should be primarily directed toward unreached people, why should any of us come to a country like Swaziland, 80% Christian already?”
You can read my reply to her here, but I thought the topic was important enough to open it up for more discussion.
I was listening to an international leader in mission, a former director of Operations Mobilisation in South Africa, last night. He mentioned that about 27% of the world still need to be reached and I can fully understand why people would say that our efforts should be directed to these countries rather than to those where Christianity is already strongly established, as is the case with Swaziland. The issue at stake here, as far as I can see, is what we define as “mission”. If mission only refers to “soul-saving”, then the statement would obviously be correct. But when one sees mission as something more than mere soul-saving, then it would be irresponsible to say that our efforts should be directed solely towards the unreached peoples of the world.
I’m unashamedly Evangelical. By that I mean that I believe that all people need to come into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. How it happens is of lesser importance to me. That the relationship exists, is of much greater importance. But this isn’t the Alpha and Omega of mission. David Bosch in his book, Transforming Mission, says on page 10-11: “Mission includes evangelism as one of its essential dimensions, Evangelism is the proclamation of salvation in Christ to those who do not believe in him, calling them to repentance and conversion, announcing forgiveness of sins and inviting them to become living members of Christ’s earthly community and to begin a life of service to others in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
When defining “mission”, Bosch quotes P Schütz who described mission as “participation in God’s existence in the world.” He then continues to formulate the implication of this by saying: “In our time, God’s yes to the world reveals itself, to a large extent, in the church’s missionary engagement in respect of the realities of injustice, oppression, poverty, discrimination, and violence. We increasingly find ourselves in a truly apocalyptic situation where the rich get richer and the poor poorer, and where violence and oppression from both the right and the left are escalating. The church-in-mission cannot possibly close its eyes to these realities, since “the pattern of the church in the chaos of our time is political through and through”
When one is confronted by the extreme poverty, the injustice, oppression, the problems of HIV and AIDS, to name but a few, which occurs in countries all over the world, then one realises that those who propagate that the church should focus only, or at least primarily, on the unreached people (implicating that the missionaries should withdraw from the “reached” countries) still do not understand what mission really is.
Shortly after I had finished my theological studies, I was called as chaplain to the South African Defence Force for a compulsory two years of military service. The soldiers, fighting against terrorists entering – what is today known as Namibia – from Angola, used to count the bodies after every battle. (This, by the way, was absolutely gruesome and perhaps one of the reasons why I feel so strongly against war today.) I sometimes feel that many Christians also go into the spiritual battle with the aim of merely counting the souls after every campaign. But this is not what mission is all about. Mission is about proclaiming the kingdom of God (the “reign” of God) all over the world in every place. And wherever God’s kingdom is not being acknowledged, the church has the task to continue with its proclamation, be it in “reached” or “unreached” countries.
Does that make sense?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Church, David Bosch, Evangelicals, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology, Vision | 17 Comments

Transforming Mission – Chapter 1

My oldest son, Cobus, together with some friends, have started a discussion group on David Bosch’s magnum opus, Transforming Mission. To top it, they are extremely privileged to have David’s wife, Annemie, as part of this discussion group. They are meeting from time to time to discuss a specific chapter from the book and then they blog about their findings. You can read more about this exciting venture here. I’ve asked Cobus to allow me (and I assume others would also be welcome) who do not have the privilege to meet with this group but who want to read the book on their own, to take part in this discussion by way of our blogs. So here goes:
Perhaps some personal background may be of interest. The first time I read Transforming Mission was before it was published. I was busy with my doctorate in Missiology and although Prof Bosch was not my promoter, I regularly visited him, sometimes at his office and sometimes at his home, to discuss certain issues with him. He had also done research on the topic of Mission and Eschatology (the theme of my thesis) and often told me about his own findings about this topic as he was busy writing his book. And each time I was there he would print out a few chapters of the manuscript so that I could use it for my own research. (I just find it incredible that he was so unselfish with his academic knowledge!)
Chapter 1 has as its title: Reflections on the New Testament and in this chapter Bosch touches on a number of issues, each of which one can blog about. I’ve decided to concentrate on two paragraphs, from page 28-31, where he writes about the all-inclusiveness of Jesus’ mission as well as His attitude towards the gentiles. I consider this important, mostly because a topic like this can lead to great misunderstanding. In 1988 I was part of a synod where the Bible Study was led by David Bosch and where I, for the first time, heard him speak about this topic. I actually urge you to read more about this remarkable time here.
When speaking about the all-inclusiveness of Jesus’ mission, it may be easy to think that this would mean that anyone, regardless of their faith or relationship with God, is automatically “saved”. This, however, is not what I heard him saying nor how he writes about the topic. Although, what Bosch is saying when he discusses the topic, could be considered as a universal truth, I think it is also important to understand the time-frame within which it was written (although, I am convinced that, had he been alive today, he would still have maintained virtually the same viewpoint.) In 1988, when he discussed the topic in the Bible Study mentioned above, and in the years leading up to the publishing of the book in 1991, South Africa was virtually caught up in a civil war. A state of emergency had been announced in 1985. The effects of the political turmoil was felt even in the church. In the same year the Kairos Document was published, which challenged the church in one paragraph to “demand that the oppressed stand up for their rights and wage a struggle against their oppressors.” In 1986 the Belhar Confession was accepted by a church consisting predominantly of coloured members in which it was stated, amongst other, “that God is on the side of those who suffer physically, those who are poor and those who have had injustice done to them.”
The situation in 1988 was thus one of great tension between the different race groups in South Africa. The Whites had previously considered themselves almost to be “God’s chosen people” (I know I’m generalizing when I say this) and the Blacks and coloured people who had been the victims of great oppression in the past, now started seeing themselves as being on the side of God (while God had obviously chosen against the White people who were seen as the oppressors.)
It was within this situation that David Bosch stood up and announced that God’s love is all-inclusive. Jesus did not only love one group of people, but specifically chose disciples from a variety of groups. And this is how I understand it when Bosch says that Jesus’ mission is all-inclusive. Jesus came for the rich and the poor, for Black and White (and whatever other race group there may be), for tax-collectors and other sinners. No group has the right to claim that Jesus only loves them. Because His love is all-inclusive, anybody who accepts the sacrificial death of Jesus unto salvation, will be saved – even the gentiles, as Bosch explains in the paragraph on pages 29-31.

Saturday, March 14, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Book Review, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, David Bosch, Eschatology, Grace, Meetings, Mission, Social issues, Theology | 1 Comment

Working with Short-term Outreach Teams (3)

When I started blogging, one of the first topics I wrote about was partnerships in mission. If you click on this link, you will find everything I wrote about partnerships. One of the reasons why I believe that partnerships often stop functioning effectively, is because most partnerships in mission are one way roads where resources are channelled from the “haves” to the “have-nots” which are only too glad to receive all kinds of gifts. But this usually leads to a very unhealthy relationship and eventually the people handing out the gifts get tired of doing this and then the relationship often stops.
I can’t remember where he wrote about it, but I recall that David Bosch once mentioned that both partners in a mission relationship should be giving. Obviously, the poorer of the two can hardly support the richer partner financially, but in most cases they have other things which they can give. What needs to happen is for the richer partner to realise that they have a need for what the poorer partner can give to them. One example of this would be the caring spirit that is often found amongst poorer communities – something which I have heard time and time again really touches people from richer communities who live in circumstances where they do not really need to take care of others.
In the past, when hosting short-term outreach teams, the team would greet me at the end of the time with the words: “When we came, we prepared ourselves to give to these people, but it feels as if we had received more than we could give.” Nowadays, when hosting a short-term outreach team, we prepare ourselves to give to them. We know much more about the culture than the visitors know. We know much more about the needs of the people. We know much more about ways of taking care of people, using the minimum resources. We have much more experience in taking care of people in need, of encouraging the sick and the dying. In most cases we know much more about HIV and AIDS. The list goes on. What the visitors have to offer we receive gladly, but I inform them beforehand that we are going to expose them to situations which most of them have never experienced, but we do it on purpose to help them better to understand what we are doing and in such a way equipping them to use their newly acquired knowledge in other places.
No longer do we have to feel guilty or ashamed because of what we are receiving. We are thankful for everything that is given to help in the ministry, but at the same time we are sharing our experience and our example with others, so that we can truly be equal partners in accomplishing the task God gave us to do.

Thursday, May 29, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, David Bosch, Dependency, Giving, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Partnership, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | 1 Comment

Luke / Acts – A model for mission (1)

While en route to Russia recently, I stayed over in a North African country for two days. I decided not to mention the name of the country as I do not want to jeopardize the Christian church in that country in any way. While I was there I was (unexpectedly) asked to present a lecture on mission at a YWAM training base about 100 kilometres from the city where we were staying. I agreed to do this and had to make do with very little sleep that night as I prepared what I would be teaching on the following day. Fortunately I had the basic thoughts in my mind (and some notes on my laptop) and it was more a matter of organising things in the form of a lecture.
I have long been interested in the Gospel of Luke and the other book written by the same author, Acts. In 1988 I attended a synod meeting, consisting primarily of Black church leaders with a few White people in between. This was not a good meeting. This was at the height of the racial tension in South Africa. The meeting took place in a Black township outside Pretoria (Mamelodi) and the tension was clearly visible even at this meeting. One political activist attending the meeting was known to proclaim openly that if any White person should agree with him, he had not been radical enough.
It was at this meeting that David Bosch was asked to lead the daily Bible study. He chose to do it from the books of Luke and Acts and sub-titled the Bible studies: Two books for our time. Never before nor since have I experienced such depth and such practical guide lines in a Bible Study. David Bosch later published his research on these two books in an Afrikaans publication which he sub-titled: Good news for the poor … and the rich and later, when he published his Transforming Mission, he devoted the entire chapter 3 to these two Bible books. (Just as a matter of interest: The same radical Black person at the synod was afterwards asked to thank David Bosch on behalf of the synod for the Bible studies and he said something like: I would never have thought it possible that a White man would be able to lead us in a Bible study in such a way that I could agree with him, but David Bosch did exactly this! I thought this was quite a compliment.
In my lecture I did not follow Bosch’s guidelines. I followed another route which I will try and explain over the next few days on this blog.
I’m not, first of all, a New Testament scholar, but in the books and commentaries I consulted, one verse stands out in the gospel of Luke as the central verse and this is Luke 9:51: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” As I proceed, it will become clear why this verse is so important.
Jerusalem plays an extremely important part in both the gospel of Luke as well as in Acts. The following examples will help to illustrate this:

  • The gospel starts and ends in Jerusalem
  • Jesus is dedicated to the Lord in Jerusalem (Luke 2:22)
  • Jerusalem is indicated as the place where Jesus would complete His earthly mission (Luke 9:31)
  • From Luke 9:51 Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem starts
  • Jerusalem is the city where Jesus died, was resurrected and ascended to heaven
  • Jerusalem is the end of Jesus’ mission on earth
  • Jerusalem is the starting point for the disciples’ mission to the world (Acts 1:8 )

Monday, May 5, 2008 Posted by | Church, David Bosch, Mission, Poverty, Racism, Theology | 2 Comments

Being part of God’s triumphant procession

I’m just back home after a round trip of about 500 miles to attend a meeting on Evangelism Explosion. One person opened the meeting with Scripture reading from 2 Corinthians 2:14-15: But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
He then shared with us the “normal” explanation of this part that God has made us (as Christians) part of His triumphal procession so that we can share in His glory. In other words, being part of this procession also makes us triumphant – the Christians are the triumphant soldiers.
I said that this is the “normal” explanation for this passage. It was, once again, David Bosch who opened my eyes to the true meaning of this passage. (I’m not sure how many people are aware that Bosch, although being one of the greatest missiologists of the previous century, was in fact a New Testament scholar and that he did his PhD on the New Testament!) This passage is NOT saying that Christians are part of the triumphant army. God is the triumphant soldier and we as Christians are those people who had been taken captive by God. In his book, A Spirituality of the Road, Bosch says that the metaphor which Paul uses most probably refers to the march of triumph of the Roman general who parades his captives and booty in the busy streets of Rome. The same metaphor is used in Colossians 2:15. Under normal circumstances the prisoners were a sorry sight, according to Colossians stripped of their clothing and bound in chains. Paul, however, is rejoicing in the fact that he had been captured by God. Although he realises that he may be martyred because of his faith in Christ, there is no better place for him to be, than to be captured by God.
For centuries, the church had a mentality of triumphalism. The military terms that were used (and still are being used) to describe the triumph of Christianity include words like soldier, forces, advance, army, crusade, campaign and many more. Up to this day we still speak of an evangelism crusade or a campaign in the context of “us” overpowering “them”. We are the triumphant ones.
Paul’s attitude is totally different. We are those who had been humiliated by God. Being part of Christ means sacrificing your own will. This is humiliating! I have to bow down before God and I have to bow down before people (even washing their feet!) because of my choice to follow Christ. This is in total contrast with the “normal” way of understanding 2 Corinthians 2:14-15. But then, if I had to choose again, I wouldn’t choose anything else than to be a prisoner in God’s triumphal procession. Ironically, there is no safer place to be than within this procession – a prisoner of God!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008 Posted by | David Bosch, Evangelism, Evangelism Explosion, Mission, Theology | Leave a comment

A Theology of Missions or Missionary Theology?

It was Stephen Neill who wrote way back in 1959 in his book, Creative Tension: If everything is mission, then nothing is mission. In a certain sense this is true and there are people today who believe that mission is defined so widely that it becomes increasingly difficult to say what mission really is.
David Bosch is one of many missiologists who unashamedly defined mission very widely, to include not only matters such as evangelisation, but also things such as social ethics and ecology. In 1991 I attended the annual meeting of the South African Missiological Society and this entire meeting was devoted to different aspects of mission and ecology – and to be quite honest, this was one of the most fruitful mission conferences I every attended! But that is a topic for another day.
Bosch wrote in his book, Believing in the future, that mission is not something secondary to the church. The church exists in being sent into the world and building itself up for its mission. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his Letters and Papers from Prison: The church is the church only when it exists for others… The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. Emil Brunner put the same idea in these words: The church exists by mission, just as fire exists by burning.
It is because Bosch realised the truth of these words that he said that we needed to develop a missionary theology, not just a theology of mission. A theology of mission will do nothing more, according to him, than to patch up the church. He continues: We are in need of a missiological agenda for theology, not just a theological agenda for mission; for theology, rightly understood, has no reason to exist other than critically to accompany the missio Dei.
What this all boils down to is that mission needs to take a central part in the church. Well, obviously God needs to be in the centre, but whatever we do in the church needs to be built around God’s heart for the world which He loves so much that He even sent His Son to die for it.
In my experience, in most churches, mission is still something that exists (if it does exist at all!) as one of many projects being run in the church. What we need to do is to say that the church exists because of it’s mission and according to this all other work in the church should be planned. Just as Jesus did not come to be served but to serve, so the church does not exist to be served but to serve.
Until we grasp this truth, we are forever going to struggle with the future of the church, planning, debating, meeting, negotiating, but never coming to the point where we realise that, as church, we have only one obligation, and this is to serve the world (through which we also serve God.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008 Posted by | Church, David Bosch, Evangelism, Mission, Social issues, Theology | 9 Comments